NEWCASTLE THUNDER have insisted that the eight-match ban handed to Alex Foster was too severe and questioned the “appropriateness” of the charge of “physical assault” of a referee.
The forward won’t play again this season after receiving the hefty ban from the RFL’s disciplinary tribunal.
Foster was sin-binned in Newcastle’s recent Championship win over Bradford Bulls for pushing referee Michael Smaill.
The RFL’s match review panel took a dim view of the incident by giving him a Grade F charge, the most serious possible.
Foster admitted the offence but challenged the grading. However, a disciplinary tribunal found him guilty of the charge.
The RFL’s guidelines state that while “deliberate or reckless physical contact with a match official”, such as placing a hand, should result in a Grade A-E charge, “pushing/shoving” is classed as “physical assault of a match official” and should result in a Grade F charge.
Newcastle said in a statement: “Taking into account the player’s previous exemplary disciplinary record and the mild nature of the contact, Thunder had hoped that whilst accepting contact with the referee was inappropriate, the grading of the offence would be reconsidered.
“The tribunal, however, upheld the original decision and handed down the suspension, which will see Foster ruled out for the rest of the season.
“It is a verdict that club and player accept, but one where Thunder maintain their position with regard to the severity of the grade of charge faced and the appropriateness of the wording used around the communications surrounding the charge.”
Director of rugby Denis Betts said: “We felt having watched both the full-speed footage and the slow-motion replays, that there was a realistic case to be made for a reduction in the grading; however, the tribunal disagreed.
“We also challenged the wording of the charge as, while there was inappropriate contact with a match official, we felt the term ‘physical assault’ was excessive.”
Foster issued an apology to referee Smaill alongside the club’s statement.
“It was a lapse of judgement in the heat of what felt like a crucial point as we defended our line, having made an excellent start,” he said.
“Referees and officials are crucial to our game, and I regret my response to my frustrations at that moment.”
BRADFORD BULLS hooker George Flanagan says he was “immensely proud” to play alongside his son professionally for the first time.
George Flanagan Jr made his senior debut at the age of 17 in Bradford’s recent home defeat to London Broncos, starting the game at fullback and going on to score a second-half try.
His dad, a former Batley Bulldogs, Dewsbury Rams, Featherstone Rovers and Hunslet favourite, featured as an interchange hooker in the game.
“He’s been chomping at the bit to get going and he got the chance to,” said 35-year-old Flanagan Sr.
“I’m immensely proud. The whole family was there and they all are as well.
“He’s got a good attitude for the game. He always has had since he was a little kid. He’s been a ball boy with me at Batley and at Hunslet.
“I thought he was absolutely outstanding. Physically I thought he matched them, and he brought loads of enthusiasm.
“On today’s performance, I don’t think he looked out of place at all (in the Championship).
“George showed some really good skill at the back, taking those catches in the in-goal then sprinting to get us on the front foot. He held his own.”
It was a special day for the family but the defeat continued a desperate run for the Bulls, who went into Sunday’s trip to Barrow Raiders on a three-match losing sequence.
Flanagan Sr pulled no punches reflecting on a run that saw them concede more than 50 points to both Leigh Centurions and Newcastle Thunder.
“We’re in a dark place at the moment, I’ll be totally honest,” he said.
“We’re in a difficult place and only us can dig ourselves out of it. That’s nothing to do with the coaching staff.
“We’ve got some quality players here but we need to start showing that on the field.”
There was one player in and one out at the Bulls before last week’s transfer deadline, with Dan Fleming leaving for Featherstone Rovers on a permanent deal and Jacob Gannon joining on loan from Warrington Wolves.
HALIFAX PANTHERS halfback Joe Keyes recently set a new club record for points scored in a game, but his head coach Simon Grix immediately challenged him to break it again!
Keyes scored 34 points, through four tries and nine goals, in Halifax’s win over Workington Town, breaking a record of 32 that was previously jointly-held by John Schuster and Steve Tyrer, who set their totals in 1994 and 2016 respectively.
Grix praised the crucial role Keyes has played in Halifax’s sparkling form this season and hopes he can go even better.
He said: “Keyesy has been great. He’s getting some consistent rugby under his belt and generally when players are happy and comfortable, they play better.
“He’s a quality player and hopefully he’s here for the long term and we can keep watching that week-on-week and he can beat it at some point!
“He’s been really good for us, leading us around, he’s been playing smart and developed some good relationships this year, which hopefully we can see at the end of the year when we get all our numbers back.
“He deserves that (record), he kicks really well and his kick percentage must be up there (with the best in the league).”
Keyes, who is in his first season at the Panthers after moving from Hull KR and is contracted until the end of next year, said: “I’m really happy about it.
“I didn’t know what the record was; I just tried to do my best for the team and I’m buzzing to come up with that.”
On breaking the records of Schuster and Tyrer, he added: “They’re two massive club legends so if I can get anywhere near what those two have done for the club by the end of my time here, I’ll be very happy.”
Meanwhile, forward Matt Gee must serve a five-game ban following two offences of dangerous contact in Halifax’s win over York earlier this month.
Dan Murray last week became the latest player to commit to the club, signing a new two-year contract.
BATLEY BULLDOGS coach Craig Lingard is happy to lead everyone’s second-favourite club, but he hopes the love for his team translates into more support at Mount Pleasant.
The Bulldogs came in for widespread praise following their win at Featherstone Rovers last month, and then again last week when they defeated York City Knights live on Premier Sports.
They look a good bet to secure a second top-four finish in succession and their achievements against all the odds have captured imaginations across the game.
Lingard is delighted to see the attention on Batley but is keen for some more tangible benefits to be felt.
“It’s the way the club has been run historically since (Chairman) Kevin Nicholas took over,” he said of the admiration for the first-ever Challenge Cup winners.
“Everybody enjoys coming to the ground and feels really welcome when they come. With the bar and the beer garden, it’s a unique place.
“Everyone comments about the welcome they get here and the atmosphere. From top to bottom everything about the club makes it a welcoming, well-run family club.
“It’s nice getting the comments from people that Batley are their second-favourite team. But I think we’d like Batley to be a few more people’s first-favourite team!
“We’re doing all we can on the field. In previous years the comments have been ‘if you had a winning team, people will come and watch’.
“We’ve had a winning team for the last couple of years and we’re still struggling sometimes to get people through the gate.
“Hopefully, if we keep doing what we’re doing, we might entice a few more people to come up.”
DEWSBURY RAMS coach Liam Finn is seeing progress every week from his squad but he knows that life as a head coach is all about results, especially with relegation looming.
Finn took on a challenging task last month when he was appointed to his first top coaching role.
The Rams were already in the relegation zone and a start of four consecutive defeats only made things more perilous.
Finn took his first point as a coach at the fifth time of asking with a draw at Newcastle Thunder last week, but much more will be needed to overhaul London Broncos or Whitehaven above them.
“It’s a massive challenge but the target for the lads is to keep improving every week and so far, they’ve done that,” said Finn.
“They’ve done what I’ve asked them to do; now it’s about getting a couple of wins and as soon as you get one of them, you get a shot in the arm of confidence. The first one is the hardest to get.”
In appointing Finn, Dewsbury opted for a figure who already knew the club well, having only retired as a player at the Tetley’s Stadium at the end of last season.
However, he believes he has still been able to offer a fresh perspective in succeeding Lee Greenwood.
Finn said: “I’d worked with Lee and I knew what Lee was about. I’m obviously a little bit different to him.
“I think I know the types of things that weren’t being done that I can add in, and I also know some of the good stuff that Lee was doing that we can keep in.
“It all boils down to results. We’re competing hard against each other in training, but if we don’t turn that into wins soon, we’re going to end up competing in League One.”
Finn showed his willingness to get stuck in and make strong decisions early, signing Jack Blagbrough from neighbours Batley Bulldogs and making numerous loan additions as well as appointing his former Wakefield boss Tony Smith as assistant coach, while allowing four players to depart.
“It needed to freshen up, and it’s probably a bit harsh some of the lads who have gone out,” said Finn, who also acquired Connor Davies from Workington Town before last week’s transfer deadline.
“But if you’re going to keep doing (what you’re already doing) and churning out the same things, you’ll keep getting the same results, so I had to make some changes. Some of them have positive, while some are a work in progress.
“I knew the position we were in at the time and it’s just trying to squeeze as much of the lads’ potential out of them as possible.”
CHRIS THORMAN says he’s fully focused on doing everything possible to steer Workington Town away from trouble at the foot of the Championship.
It’s been a tough season for the promoted Cumbrian club, who went into their round-20 game at Sheffield Eagles with just one league win.
It’s against the odds that Town will survive, but former Super League, NRL and England halfback Thorman, who continues to seek squad reinforcements, refuses to say the word ‘relegation’.
“Yes, it’s been hard, and there are reasons behind that, but there are still enough games to play to pick up some points,” he said.
“There seem to be people having their say externally, which is their right, but I see this group more than anyone else.
“We have a lot of young players who are inexperienced at this level, but their attitude is good and they are continually learning, as I am too.
“They train hard and, in most matches, they are good for 80 percent of the time, so as a coaching staff we’re trying to work on improving the other 20 percent and getting some consistency.”
Workington came up through last year’s League One play-offs, and Thorman added: “We were the last side to know we were going up, so we were behind the eight-ball in terms of recruitment, and players we’d identified had been signed by other clubs.
“We also had some transition in terms of the boardroom, which perhaps had an effect, and there is the additional factor of our geographical location, which inevitably makes it harder to sign part-time players because of the travelling involved.
“That’s something we’re working on improving in terms of providing employment outside rugby and accommodation, and we’re also further strengthening our links with the community game, because it’s an area we will inevitably pull players from.
“Add in the increased strength of the Championship, and you have to be realistic about the challenge we faced, and still face, but we’ll keep going, and whatever happens, I think the club and the squad will be stronger for the experience of this season.”
Thorman, 41, is contracted until 2024 and added: “I signed a relatively long-term agreement because I saw plenty on the horizon here, and still do.”
BEN COCKAYNE says the opportunity to become assistant coach at York City Knights came “out of the blue” but he is excited by the challenge.
The 39-year-old has a two-year stint at York as a player before retiring in 2019, only to be tempted back into the game by League One side Doncaster last year.
But he has now stepped back from playing for a second time thanks to one phone call from Knights head coach James Ford, looking for a replacement for previous assistant Brett Delaney following his move to Hull KR.
“It was an opportunity that came out of the blue,” said Cockayne.
“I obviously knew there was a vacancy after Brett left but I didn’t expect to get the call. I’m absolutely delighted to be coming back.
“I made my decision when I was on the phone with Fordy.
“When I played underneath him, I was so impressed with him as a coach and how he delivers stuff.
“I was impressed with how he gave responsibility and trust to his senior players and we always had a great relationship when I was playing under him.
“I’m really excited to work with him. There’s a strong mutual relationship there and he’s one I’ve always spoken about in good terms.
“I have no doubt that he will push on and become a really top-level coach.”
Cockayne coached Hull KR’s Under-16s after first leaving York and he added: “It’s a new challenge for me and one I’m relishing. I’ve dipped my toe in the water but it’s going to be a different experience.”
Meanwhile, York last week secured Tongan international halfback Ata Hingano on loan from Leigh Centurions for the rest of the season.
“He is a player with outstanding individual ability and somebody that I feel will fit into our systems and enhance our level of play,” said Knights coach Ford.
BARROW RAIDERS forward Danny Langtree has drawn praise following his return from a lay-off of over two months.
The 31-year-old joined the club from Oldham, where he was a stalwart over ten years in their back row, for this season and quickly became a hit in Cumbria.
However he suffered a torn bicep at the beginning of May and only returned to action for Barrow’s recent comeback win over Sheffield Eagles.
“Danny Langtree, coming in for the first time in ten weeks, was magnificent in the back-row position,” said Raiders head coach Paul Crarey.
“He made a fantastic break, which we scored off in the left corner.”
The Sheffield win put Barrow seven points clear inside the play-off places ahead of Sunday’s clash with Bradford Bulls.
“Across the board, I can’t praise the lads enough,” Crarey said of his side’s achievements against the odds.
“It’s a long season and we’re still going strong and still turning out the wins.”
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS head coach Brian McDermott has lamented his side’s “flimsy” defence of recent weeks.
In the four matches leading up to Sunday’s clash with York City Knights, Featherstone conceded an average of 24 points a game.
Their attack got them out of trouble in the latter three games, but it is still a long way short of the standards set in the opening months of the season.
McDermott knows that it will have to get much better, especially with a fourth showdown of the season with free-scoring promotion rivals Leigh Centurions coming up this Saturday at the Summer Bash.
“We conceded again some astonishingly soft tries,” the four-time Super League Grand Final winner reflected after their recent 46-24 win at Whitehaven.
“It’s almost like the opposition choose to change direction once and therefore it’s a try. It’s frustrating. I thought that was the same throughout the game.
“It’ll turn, but the concerning thing is we’re too flimsy near our try line.”
Featherstone last week added Dan Fleming to their forward ranks from Bradford Bulls, on a deal until the end of 2023.
LEIGH CENTURIONS halfback Ben Reynolds said it was “a proud moment” to surpass the milestone of 1,000 career points.
Reynolds needed five points in Leigh’s trip to Dewsbury Rams to reach the figure, and went on to get 14 with two tries and three goals.
Most of the points have come for the Centurions, with 783 points for the club across three separate spells ahead of Sunday’s trip to Whitehaven.
He has also scored four points for Wakefield Trinity, with the rest earned in loan stints at York City Knights, Doncaster, Dewsbury and Featherstone Rovers.
“I didn’t really know until I was told,” said 28-year-old Reynolds of the landmark.
“It’s a proud moment for me. It took me a long time! But I’m happy with it.
“I’ve really enjoyed my rugby this year; those milestones come along the way but this year has been one of my favourites I’ve ever played.”
Fellow halfback Ata Hingano has been allowed to join York on loan for rest of the season.
LONDON BRONCOS interim coach Mike Eccles believes his side can play with more freedom now that relegation fears have been eased.
The capital club went into Sunday’s home clash with Halifax Panthers on a run of three wins in five matches, the latest an excellent victory away at Odsal over Bradford Bulls.
That sequence meant they sat five points clear of the drop zone last week, calming serious fears of relegation to League One only a few weeks ago.
“The job is by no means done, but we’ve got a bit of a gap now which I believe will allow us to play with some more freedom moving forwards,” said Eccles.
“The game (against Bradford) was in the balance for a short period in the second half, but other than that we were so dominant.
“I’m really happy we could build a gap sufficient enough to enjoy it at the end rather than take it down to the wire.”
But Eccles warned it was not quite job done just yet.
“Every game has been a cup final for us recently, and we are still trying to pull away from the danger zone,” he said.
SHEFFIELD EAGLES director of rugby Mark Aston says his team need to develop more resilience.
They were on the end of a staggering turnaround at the beginning of July when London Broncos came from 28-0 down at half-time to beat them 36-28.
It was then a similar, if slightly less dramatic, story the weekend before last when a 32-12 advantage was squandered to Barrow Raiders.
Those losses have put paid to any slim play-off hopes Sheffield might have harboured, and Aston knows he has work to do in addressing the issue.
He said: “It’s where we are at the moment as a team, with the resolve. When we get put in the tumble dryer we come up with some poor decisions.
“It’s a tough one, but we are working hard, and the frustrating thing is we’re not far off.
“If you don’t play the full (match) you come unstuck and that’s what is happening to us.
“They’ve got to smell it and see it. I can’t physically do anything for them out there.
“I can give them words of wisdom but they’ve got to ignite each other and hit that button. We’ve got to develop that sort of resilience.”
WHITEHAVEN are excited to see the talents of Jason Qareqare help secure their Championship status for next season.
The highly-rated winger has joined on loan for the rest of the season from Castleford Tigers, along with hooker Cain Robb, who has a previous spell at the LEL Arena earlier in the year.
“Jason scorched into Super League, scoring a great try on debut while he was still at school,” said Whitehaven head coach Jonty Gorley, who will no longer be able to bring Joe Drodrolagi on trial as planned after the Fijian suffered an injury.
“He has pace to burn and comes with good raps off Castleford, being able to play wing and fullback.
“He’s still only young and playing Championship, he’ll gain some valuable experience to take back to Castleford with him.”
Meanwhile, Whitehaven announced at a fans’ forum on Friday night that Andrew Canavan has stepped down as CEO, with director Ashley Kilpatrick taking interim charge until a permanent appointment is made.
WIDNES VIKINGS coach John Kear praised Matty Fleming for filling in seamlessly as a fullback at the last minute.
Regular number one Jack Owens was forced to pull out late before Widnes’ recent victory over Newcastle Thunder through injury.
Up stepped Fleming, a former St Helens, London Broncos and Dewsbury Rams player in his first season at the Vikings.
Although usually seen at centre, Fleming has played at fullback before and slotted straight in, to the delight of Kear.
“He stood out, and the thing that should make him stand out even more is that he didn’t run at fullback (before the game),” said Kear.
“Jack had run at fullback all the way through preparation. It was the last set that we were running that he pulled up with his hamstring problem.
“(Fleming) hadn’t practised there so we’ll have to do that more often and just throw people there – if they turn out like that, then we’re okay!”
The above content is also available in the regular weekly edition of League Express, on newsstands every Monday in the UK and as a digital download. Click here for more details.